x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Barcelona hope to continue recent revival with win in Catalan derby

Leaders Atletico Madrid face toughest test among title hopefuls with trip to Athletic Bilbao

Barcelona's Neymar reacts after scoring against Celta Vigo during a Primera Liga match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, on March 26, 2014. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo
Barcelona's Neymar reacts after scoring against Celta Vigo during a Primera Liga match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, on March 26, 2014. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo

Barcelona have the destiny of the tightest Primera Liga title race in years in their hands after gaining six points on eternal rivals Real Madrid in the past week.

The Catalans followed up their 4-3 win in the clasico against Madrid at the Bernabeu last Sunday with a 3-0 victory over Celta Vigo in midweek, while Madrid slipped to another defeat, 2-1 at Sevilla.

Atletico Madrid lead the way with eight games left, a point clear of Barca and three ahead of Real. Barca host Atletico on the final day of the season in what could be a title decider.

It was not quite a perfect week for Barcelona as goalkeeper Victor Valdes will miss the rest of the season after cruciate ligament damage to his right knee.

Gerardo Martino’s men can also expect a difficult test this weekend as they visit city rivals Espanyol in the Catalan derby.

Midfielder Andres Iniesta said they cannot let their concentration be swayed by the misfortune that has afflicted Valdes or their upcoming Uefa Champions League quarter-final against Atletico.

“Playing every three days there is no time to enjoy victory or let your head get down,” he told Barca TV.

“It is very difficult, but we need to keep going. Derbies are always very special occasions and the situation in the league makes this one even more important. We need to go there and win, although we are aware of how difficult that will be.

“We are back in the fight for La Liga, which I think is just. Now every game is a final.”

By contrast, it has been an awful week for Real Madrid as, having gone five months and 31 games in all competitions without tasting defeat, they were beaten twice in four days.

Playmaker Isco said he believes there is still time to peg back Atletico and Barca, as they did earlier in the season after a difficult start to the campaign.

“It was a big blow because it has changed the situation we were in until two games ago. We are Real Madrid and we are obliged to respond,” he told the club’s website.

“There are eight games left and we are totally confident that we can reverse the situation. We have already done so once this season. We were six points behind and there is no reason we can’t cut the gap now.”

Atletico, meanwhile, on paper face the hardest game of the title challengers when they travel to fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao.

Diego Simeone’s men are one of only two sides to have beaten Athletic at home since they moved to the new San Mames at the start of the season, when they met in the Copa del Rey in January.

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